Saracens blitz hapless Warriors
Saracens blitz hapless WarriorsSHARE
Four tries in 20 first-half minutes blew Worcester Warriors away as Saracens ensured they enter 2014 as the Premiership leaders.
The 26-8 victory at Sixways not only cemented Sarries' spot at the top of the table, it also left the Warriors floundering in the relegation zone – nine points adrift in last place
It took Saracens nine minutes to score the first try of the game and it was David Strettle who grabbed it.
* In other Saturday action Northampton Saints roared back to assert their Premiership title credentials with a crushing six-try victory over Bath at Franklin's Gardens.
* Owen Williams filled in admirably for Toby Flood as Leicester Tigers withstood a second-half fightback from Sale Sharks to climb temporarily back into the top four in the Premiership.
* Twickenham provided the backdrop for a thrilling Harlequins display as Conor O'Shea's men downed Exeter Chiefs 22-6.
We look at all Saturday's drama!
Leicester Tigers 30-23 Sale Sharks
Owen Williams filled in admirably for Toby Flood as Leicester Tigers withstood a second-half fightback from Sale Sharks to climb temporarily back into the top four in the Premiership.
The Tigers powered into a 20-6 lead at the break thanks to tries from Ed Slater and Adam Thompstone, who should have added a second before the break.
However, Sale hit back with two tries in 11 second-half minutes as Mark Cueto and Charlie Ingall dragged the away side back to within three points at 23-20.
Leicester's forward power saw them re-establish a ten point lead with a converted penalty try and while Joe Ford's fine penalty secured Sale a losing bonus point, the Tigers claimed the win in front of a 24,000 sell-out crowd.
Injury and illness deprived this game of two England fly-halves with Leicester's Flood still sidelined and Danny Cipriani, the Sale No.10, suffering from flu.
Instead it was a Welshman who was handed the platform to shine with Williams, signed from Scarlets in the summer, grasping his chance from the off.
A smart chip got the Tigers going forward before the 21-year-old broke and released the ball for Slater to score, Williams converting.
Williams then added a penalty to put the hosts 10-0 up after ten minutes when Sale were penalised for not rolling away.
Sale then enjoyed some good territory but their attempted to hit back was hindered when Sam Tuitupou was sin binned.
Leicester made the most of the advantage when Thompstone crossed for their second try after a missed pass from Dan Bowden.
Sale were on the board when Nick MacLeod converted a penalty from in front of the posts.
Thompstone looked certain to score his second try and Leicester's third soon after but he knocked on with the line gaping and the score remained 20-3 as Sale were restored to full strength.
Indeed it was the visitors who had the final say on the first-half when MacLeod kicked his second penalty of the match on the stroke of half-time.
The Tigers started the second half on the front foot with Dan Cole making a break into the 22 and eventually the home side extended their lead with another Williams penalty.
Sale attempted to respond through the boot of Rob Miller but the full-back failed with their kick.
However, the Sharks did not have to wait long to narrow the gap as Cueto appeared on the overlap to score his sixth try of the season.
The Sharks revival stepped up a gear with 20 minutes to go when a superb break from James Gaskell allowed winger Ingall to set up a grandstand finish.
Leicester responded by camping themselves down in Sale's 22 with Sharks wing Tom Brady forced to take the ball under his own posts.
A long series of scrums ensued before Leicester were eventually awarded a penalty try and Williams converted before he was replaced, finishing with 15 points.
Sale's replacement fly-half Ford, brother of former Tiger George, successfully kicked a 40-metre penalty to put the visitors back within seven points.
It was enough to earn Sale a bonus point as Leicester's pursuit of a fourth try, and a bonus point, ultimately came up short.
For Leicester Tigers:
Tries: Slater, Thompstone, Penalty try
Cons: Williams 3
Pens: Williams 3
For Sale Sharks:
Tries: Cueto, Ingall
Cons: Macleod 2
Pens: Macleod 2, Ford
Yellow card: Sam Tuitupou (Sale Sharks, 20)
Leicester Tigers: 15 Mathew Tait, 14 Niall Morris, 13 Vereniki Goneva, 12 Dan Bowden, 11 Adam Thompstone, 10 Owen Williams, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Jamie Gibson, 5 Ed Slater, 4 Louis Deacon (captain), 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16 Neil Briggs, 17 Boris Stankovich, 18 Fraser Balmain, 19 Sebastian de Chaves, 20 Jordan Crane, 21 David Mélé, 22 Ryan Lamb, 23 Scott Hamilton.
Sale Sharks: 15 Rob Miller, 14 Charlie Ingall, 13 Mark Cueto, 12 Sammy Tuitupou, 11 Tom Brady, 10 Nick Macleod, 9 Dwayne Peel, 8 Viliami Fahiki, 7 Dan Braid (captain), 6 James Gaskell, 5 Michael Paterson, 4 Andrei Ostrikov, 3 Vadim Cobilas, 2 Marc Jones, 1 Eifion Lewis Roberts.
Replacements: 16 Tommy Taylor, 17 Ross Harrison, 18 Henry Thomas, 19 Jonathan Mills, 20 David Seymour, 21 Will Cliff, 22 Joe Ford, 23 Andy Forsyth.
Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant Referees: Ashley Rowden & Peter Huckle
TMO: Rowan Kitt
Northampton Saints 43-25 Bath
Northampton Saints roared back to assert their Premiership title credentials with a crushing six-try victory over Bath at Franklin's Gardens.
Christian Day (two), George Pisi, Jamie Elliott, Samu Manoa and George North all got in on the act as Saints made it six Premiership wins on the spin, comfortably prevailing in this second versus third clash.
Bath arrived at the Gardens on a run of 11 matches unbeaten and romped into a 13-0 lead, but Saints cranked up the heat thereafter and their visitors simply couldn't live with them.
All the while Stephen Myler enhanced his claims to feature in Stuart Lancaster's forthcoming England squad with a consummate display at fly-half, kicking five conversions and a timely 75th-minute penalty.
Bath rallied late and Leroy Houston's 66th-minute score brought them to within eight points but Myler's three-pointer and North's try extinguished any hopes of a comeback.
With the match just a few minutes old there was a lengthy break in play as referee Luke Pearce was inadvertently clobbered by a Bath forward and forced off the field, bringing Martin Fox into the fray as the man in the middle.
His first act was to award a penalty – duly converted by George Ford – and Bath raced into a 10-0 lead on five minutes when Kyle Eastmond made the most of a break to dot down.
Ford added the extras before bisecting the posts with another penalty to give Bath a handsome lead, but things fell apart for the visitors when Paul James was sent to the sin bin on 18 minutes.
Day had his first score just two minutes later after hooker Dylan Hartley had sent the ball wide and George Pisi, restored to the line-up after his ban, rounded off a nice build up on 28 minutes.
With Myler converting both Saints had edged in front and the hosts were rampant – Elliott the next to cross after a smart pass from Ken Pisi to send Northampton in 21-13 up at the break.
Day had his second on 42 minutes in another power-packed move but back came Bath with a muscular try of their own, finished off by Rob Webber.
Ford couldn't convert however and Manoa appeared to make the game safe with Saints' fifth try, another imperious display of forward strength, but Bath still weren't finished and reduced the arrears to 33-25 when Houston picked up from the base of the scrum and forced his way over.
Bath pressed for at least a bonus point but Myler's penalty gave Saints a cushion and North rounded off an excellent performance with try number six at the death.
Tries: Day 2, G Pisi, Elliott, Clark, North
Cons: Myler 5
Tries: Eastmond, Webber, Houston
Cons: Ford 2
Pens: Ford 2
Yellow card: Paul James (Bath, 18)
Northampton Saints: 15 Ken Pisi, 14 Jamie Elliott, 13 George Pisi, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 George North, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Kahn Fotuali'i, 8 Samu Manoa, 7 Tom Wood, 6 Calum Clark, 5 Christian Day, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Dylan Hartley (captain), 1 Alex Waller.
Replacements: 16 Mike Haywood, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Tom Mercey, 19 Sam Dickinson, 20 Phil Dowson, 21 Lee Dickson, 22 Glenn Dickson, 23 Tom Collins.
Bath: 15 Anthony Watson, 14 Horacio Agulla, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Kyle Eastmond, 11 Matt Banahan, 10 George Ford, 9 Martin Roberts, 8 Carl Fearns, 7 Francois Louw, 6 Matt Garvey, 5 Dave Attwood, 4 Stuart Hooper (captain), 3 Anthony Perenise, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Paul James.
Replacements: 16 Eusebio Guinazu, 17 Nathan Catt, 18 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 19 Dominic Day, 20 Leroy Houston, 21 Peter Stringer, 22 Tom Heathcote, 23 Nick Abendanon.
Referee: Luke Pearce
Assistant Referees: Paul Dix & Kevin Stewart
TMO: Keith Lewis
Worcester Warriors 8-26 Saracens
Four tries in 20 first-half minutes blew Worcester Warriors away as Saracens ensured they enter 2014 as the Premiership leaders thanks to a 26-8 victory at Sixways.
It took Saracens nine minutes to score the first try of the game and it was David Strettle who grabbed it.
But by the half-hour mark the visitors had build an unassailable lead as Schalk Brits, Alex Goode and Charlie Hodgson all followed wing Strettle over the whitewash.
Worcester to their credit never gave up and tried their hardest to add to Leo Senatore's late first-half try after the interval.
But it wasn't to be as the Warriors slipped to their 11th Premiership defeat of the season.
Sarries signalled their intent right from the word go as they pressured the Worcester defence following a clever Hodgson kick, however Sam Betty caused Mako Vunipola to knock on and the danger was snuffed out.
And on six minutes Worcester could have taken the lead by Ignacio Mieres sent his penalty narrowly wide of the posts.
However, just moments later the Argentine fly-half did kick Worcester into the lead.
But just a minute later Saracens burst into life. Billy Vunipola made the initial break before handing over to brother Mako. The ball went down the line to Chris Wyles and the American's pass to Strettle was not adjudged to have gone forward by the TMO and Saracens were on the scoreboard.
And on 17 minutes they had their second try following a poor box-kick by Jeremy Su'a. The scrum-half's kick fell straight into Saracens' hands and a clever move ended with Brits bursting over the line, leaving Hodgson with a simple conversion.
Worcester didn't give in and continued to probe the Sarries defence but to no avail.
However the visitors had no such trouble sniffing out the whitewash as on 26 minutes fullback Goode shredded his way though Worcester's defence after being put away by Tim Streather.
Hodgson once again added the extras and he was on hand to convert again just three minute later, this time from his own score as he gathered his own chip to dot down between the sticks.
Soon though Sarries found themselves a man light as Mako Vunipola was sin-binned for an elbow on Alex Grove whole on the floor in a ruck.
And Worcester made the most of the man advantage with Senatore burrowing his way over just before half-time, Mieres missing the conversion to leave the home side trailing 26-8 at the break.
Worcester pounded away at the Saracens five-metre line almost immediately after the restart but the visitors held firm.
And try as they might they simply couldn't add to their points tally as Saracens showed exactly why they are the team to beat this season.
As for Sarries, they too probed after the restart but had done their damage in the first 40, seeing the game out with consummate ease.
For Worcester Warriors:
Tries: Strettle, Brits, Goode, Hodgson
Cons: Hodgson 3
Yellow card: Mako Vunipola (Saracens, 31)
Worcester Warriors: 15 Chris Pennell (captain), 14 James Stephenson, 13 Alex Grove, 12 Andy Symons, 11 Josh Drauniniu, 10 Ignacio Mieres, 9 Jeremy Su'a, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Sam Betty, 6 Richard de Carpentier, 5 Mariano Galarza, 4 James Percival, 3 Rob O'Donnell, 2 Chris Brooker, 1 Ofa Fainga'anuku.
Replacements: 16 Ed Shervington, 17 Jeremy Becasseau, 18 John Andress, 19 Chris Jones, 20 Semisi Taulava, 21 Paul Hodgson, 22 Paul Warwick, 23 Ravai Fatiaki.
Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Jack Wilson, 13 Tim Streather, 12 Chris Wyles, 11 David Strettle, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Kelly Brown, 6 Jackson Wray, 5 Alistair Hargreaves (captain), 4 George Kruis, 3 Matt Stevens, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 Petrus Du Plessis, 19 Mouritz Botha, 20 Justin Melck, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Marcelo Bosch, 23 Brad Barritt.
Referee: Greg Garner
Assistant Referees: Roger Baileff & Andrew Pearce
TMO: Geoff Warren
Harlequins 22-6 Exeter Chiefs
Twickenham provided the backdrop for a thrilling Harlequins display as Conor O'Shea's men downed Exeter Chiefs 22-6.
Nick Evans, Charlie Walker and Mike Brown all found their way through a shell-shocked Chiefs in the first half, who struggled to get their own attacking game going.
Two penalties from Gareth Steenson was all Exeter had to show for their efforts while Evans, who did not his finest outing with the boot, collected seven points.
A packed Twickenham was the perfect venue for a clash that could mean so much when the Premiership is all said and done, as both sides battle to make the top four.
One point separated fourth-placed Quins from the Chiefs in fifth before kick-off but if past form at the home of rugby was anything to go by, O'Shea's troops – with four wins at Twickenham on the bounce – held the upper hand.
Their start backed that impressive record up as Quins ball was recycled rapidly to the left for a monstrous overlap, Evans the man to race through unopposed and dot down.
The Kiwi converted his own try but the Chiefs hit back and thundered into Quins territory almost immediately from kick-off.
Rob Baxter's men went on to force a penalty after Matt Hopper's illegal tackle, Steenson pushing the simplest of three pointers between the posts.
Quins' ferocious opening showed no signs of abating however and they nearly outfoxed their opponents from an attacking line-out, Danny Care receiving the ball over the top only for Sam Smith to eventually be hauled down at the last.
For all of their menace points were not flowing as Evans, who has more than 1,000 points to his name in the Premiership, uncharacteristically missed two chances from the kicking tee in quick succession.
Brown was the next Quins man to let a golden opportunity go to waste as following his break, the full-back decided to go for the try-line himself despite a wide open Walker to his right.
Instead he was smothered up and on the half-hour mark it was Walker, finally, who made a chance stick.
With Nick Easter at its fulcrum, Quins' pack combined to stretch the Chiefs' line and the ball worked its way to the right for a shimmying Walker to blast over the whitewash.
To make matters worse for Exeter, Jack Nowell was sin binned for a tip tackle on Hopper during the final offload – and they were made to pay for it just before the break.
Dave Ward stripped the ball near halfway before Care burst into space, selflessly offloading to Brown who cantered over for the score.
Evans made no mistake with the extras but it was opposing fly-half Steenson who kicked his side a vital penalty early in the second half.
By doing so the 29-year-old moved to second spot in Exeter's all-time point-scoring list as his team began to put a leash on the Londoners' relentless attack.
However they were failing to oppose themselves at the set-piece and it wasn't long before Chris Robshaw and company started to turn the screw again in the search for a bonus-point try.
Lightning-quick passing was dotted with small errors, Tom Casson and Smith inches away from playing the killer ball as Quins pounded on the door.
No try came but play was called back for a penalty before Evans resumed normal form to drill over.
Shortly after, in a move that perhaps summed up the Chiefs day, full-back Luke Arscott could not quite gather the ball in with the tryline looming after the ball had been spread to the right.
And the West Country outfit went even closer in the dying stages when Tom Johnson took a tap penalty two metres away from the whitewash but stout defending, again involving the ever-present Easter, denied him by inches.
Tries: Evans, Walker, Brown
Cons: Evans 2
Pens: Steenson 2
Yellow card: Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs, 31)
Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Charlie Walker, 13 Matt Hopper, 12 Tom Casson, 11 Sam Smith, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Danny Care, 8 Nick Easter, 7 Chris Robshaw (captain), 6 Luke Wallace, 5 George Robson, 4 Charlie Matthews, 3 Will Collier, 2 Dave Ward, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Max Crumpton, 17 Mark Lambert, 18 Paul Doran Jones, 19 Nick Kennedy, 20 Tom Guest, 21 Karl Dickson, 22 Ben Botica, 23 Ollie Lindsay-Hague.
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Luke Arscott, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Jason Shoemark, 11 Tom James, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Haydn Thomas, 8 Dave Ewers, 7 Ben White, 6 Tom Johnson, 5 Damian Welch, 4 Dean Mumm (captain), 3 Hoani Tui, 2 Jack Yeandle, 1 Ben Moon.
Replacements: 16 Chris Whitehead, 17 Brett Sturgess, 18 Alex Brown, 19 James Hanks, 20 Kai Horstmann, 21 Will Chudley, 22 Henry Slade, 23 Fetu'u Vainikolo.
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant Referees: Stuart Terheege & Roy Maybank
TMO: David Grashoff